NLBC: Interview with UNStudio
Meet Aurélie Hsiao 蕭之華, Associate Director/ Senior Architect at UNStudio.
UNStudio, founded in 1988 by Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos, is a Dutch architectural design studio specializing in architecture, interior architecture, product design, urban development and infrastructural projects.
1. Could you tell us a bit about your role and about the company?
I am an Associate Director / Senior Architect at UNStudio. We specialize in urban planning, architecture and design projects at all scales around the world. When designing, we anticipate the future trends and envision solutions which aim at improving people’s health and wellbeing. For example, we rethink the future of living, working, retail and the future of our cities of course. Our urban cable cars and Hyperloop projects are an example of how we approach the future of green mobility for instance.
2. What is your link with France?
Our ambitions align on so many levels. France is looking to innovate, to build smart resilient cities and buildings, and wants to become the largest Tech Hub in Europe. And this is precisely where our specialty lies - right at the intersection of Innovation, Health and Sustainability. When we developed our self-sufficient and sustainable urban vision for the smartest neighborhood in the world - the Brainport Smart District, we proposed a flexible grid system which will be guided by its inhabitants, as opposed to a fixed plan that is designed first and built afterwards. This is a big first. It challenges the way masterplans are traditionally done till now.
We have 30 years of experience with 120 projects built worldwide, so there is a lot of knowledge, expertise and fresh ideas worth sharing with our French partners. Plus we bring a touch of Dutch pragmatism - which is always appreciated when it comes to getting things done efficiently.
3. What would you advise when working with the French and Dutch?
There can be huge cultural differences in doing business in France vs in the Netherlands. The communication style for example – one is implicit, the other one very explicit. Big difference as well in the way decisions are made, in the way trust is gained, in the way you present an idea, build your storyline or persuade an audience for example. If you are not aware of those differences, it can easily lead to mutual misunderstanding and potentially compromise a whole business opportunity. So keep an open-mind, read the room and be flexible about the way you usually approach things.
4. Could you tell us a bit more about your link to the Netherlands Business Council France?
It goes back to a couple of years ago, via via. I was invited by the Dutch Embassy in Paris and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to present our work to the French delegation in charge of delivering the Paris 2024 Olympic Games - the SOLIDEO. They came to the Netherlands to get inspired in the field of Sustainable Construction and to meet with the most innovative Dutch companies.
That’s how I ended up getting approached by the NLBC afterwards. We decided to support the NLBC initiative and we became one of their very first members.
5. What are you currently looking for?
We are expanding to France and meeting new people via the NLBC is a great way to engage with other French and Dutch members. Some of us come from very different industries but we all share common ambitions and goals. Which is great for anyone looking for an insightful exchange of knowledge from both sides. You learn from each other, and you naturally get to meet people with quite different backgrounds, which is very enriching. Those kind of encounters open up new opportunities for collaboration in France - something we always look forward to when meeting great people with great missions.
6. What would you advise to Dutch companies thinking of expanding their business to France?
A good first encounter is half the work - yet the contrary is also true. A first encounter that goes wrong due to cultural differences can compromise a whole business opportunity. You need to learn how to read between the lines for example. A French yes doesn’t always mean yes. Or if you approach your very first meeting too pragmatically upfront, it may not necessarily work as well in France. If there is no click on a personal level, then the collaboration might not go very far, if not anywhere. Once you have one though, you made a good first step towards a successful partnership, and it may as well end up in a long-term friendship.
UNStudio is a member of the Netherlands Business Council France.
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